A forum devoted to current political, economic trends, and news of the Maghreb region.

Monday, December 28, 2009

AQIM Responsible for Kidnapping Italian Couple in Mauritania

Al-Qaeda's offshoot in the Maghreb has claimed responsibility for the December 19th kidnapping of two Italians in eastern Mauritania (see picture). Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) released an audiotape stating that the group has seized the couple in retaliation against what they called "crimes of the Italian government in Afghanistan and Iraq." AQIM has been active in recent months claiming several kidnappings mostly against foreign tourists and aid workers in the Sahel region. In addition to Eastern Mauritania, northern Mali has also been theater to AQIM's operations. In November, AQIM claimed the kidnapping of a French national, and Malian authorities believe that three Spanish aid workers that went missing in Mauritania are held in Mali by AQIM.

Over the past two years, AQIM has largely demanded ransom money in exchange for the hostages, and it is largely unclear what specific political demands the group has beyond the anti-US foreign policy brandishments in their public statements. The border between Mali and Mauritania are rife with lawlessness and corruption, which complicates the task of policing a largely nomadic territory. Some even advance possible government involvement in facilitating drug smuggling and explicit involvement in the kidnappings.

UPDATE 1/1/10: French daily Le Monde reports that AQIM has demanded a $7 million (4.8 million Euros) ransom in exchange for the three Spanish aid workers kidnapped in northern Mali. The demands came pursuant to intense efforts by Mali's president Amadou Toumani Toure, who has dispatched his consul in Saudi Arabia, and former Touareg rebel Iyad Ag Gali, north of Mali to the border region with Algeria where the hostages are believed to be held captive.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Haidar Returns to La'ayoune

The saga comes to an end. Haidar's hunger strike is finally over after the Moroccan authorities reversed their expulsion orders of the Moroccan Sahrawi acitivist. It appears that Morocco bowed to a request (some see as a demand) from l'Elysee to re-issue a Moroccan passport to Haidar after a personal intervention from President Nicholas Sarkozy, and an implicit endorsement of Morocco's proposal of broader autonomy for the Western Sahara (said to have angred the POLISARIO). The reversal has been hailed by Haidar as a triumph of human rights and international law. Haidar returned to La'ayoune and was received by her family and friends like a hero, who managed to defeat the apparatus of the Moroccan state. 

The blogosphere is jubilant about Haidar's return and sees in the break in the Lanzarote gridlock a major PR failure of the Palace, its foreign policy machine, and a monumental victory for Algeria and the POLISARIO. The stalemate definitely re-introduced the issue in its human form to the International scene, even in the U.S, where a certain neocon former foreign policy maker demonstrated in front of Morocco's Embassy in Washington D.C.

In addition to Sarkozy's statement welcoming the Moroccan autonomy proposal of the Western Sahara, a possible silver-lining for Morocco in this PR fiasco is the overwhelming consensus that the conflict garners in Kingdom. A cursory look at newspapers and Moroccan blogs reveals an incendiary support for the Moroccan position. Haidar's staged hunger strike and international pressure managed to galvanize Moroccans against what was seen as an Algerian-Spanish conspiracy to embarrass and to depict Morocco as a human rights' violator. The quagmire was equally embarrassing to Spain, in which territory the whole drama unfolded, but undoubtedly strained already tense Moroccan-Spanish relations. Spain appears to have offered no concessions to Morocco in regard to the Aminatou Haidar case at this point. 

So what's next for Haidar now that she has become an international sensation, already dubbed as the "African Gandhi," a symbol of defiance for human rights? One can easily see her the focus of International human rights organizations seeking to cast more light on the never-ending conflict of the Sands. For Morocco's part, it will be interesting to see what kind of perspective they would cast on the whole debacle and their perceived public and international capitulation.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Possible Resolution of Aminatou Haidar's Case

BBC reports that Haidar was taken to the hospital today in the Canary Islands, because she was suffering of "severe stomach and abdominal pain." This happens amidst reports that the whole stalemate is coming to a resolution as the Sahrwai activist may finally be on her way back to La'ayoune.  According to POLISARIO Ambassador to Algeria, Ibrahim Ghali: “Effectively everything has been resolved, according to our information…a plane is at Lanzarote airport awaiting instructions.”

 



Haidar has been on a hunger strike for the last month at Lazarote Airport in the Canary Islands, after she was refused entry to Morocco through La'ayoune. Moroccan authorities maintain that Haidar refused to acknowledge her Moroccan citizenship on the airport entry documents, thus renouncing her citizenship. Haidar's case has sparked intense media and international attention. European countries have continued their efforts to pressure Morocco into re-issuing Aminatou Haidar's passport. The Haidar quagmire in the Canary Islands also travelled across the pond, where in the US, Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma recently issued a statement calling for a swift resolution to Haidar's hunger strike.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Improvements in Libya's Human Rights Record

Human Rights Watch commended Libya for progress in its human rights record Saturday. The human rights organization cited "limited improvements" in the country in the areas of freedom of expression. The report states that progress was partially spurred through the efforts of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation. Back in October, Libya freed 88 Islamists, some accused of ties to al-Qaeda in a further indication of the country's new found focus on human rights. the Despite the slow pace of reform, journalists and political dissidents continue to be harassed by the state. Just Last Monday, Jamal al-Haggi, a former political prisoner, was arrested for his criticism of the government's detention of political prisoners.

Libya's efforts come at a time where the North African state is trying to move away from its international isolation and the label it had as a pariah state. In recent years, Libya's policies have signaled a move towards conciliatory foreign policy. Perhaps censing his own vulnerabilities, Qaddafi renounced all involvement in international terrorism and Libya’s ambitious WMD program. Libya has also abandoned old fantasies of Arab leadership, and has gradually emerged as an African leader as Qaddafi, “king of kings of Africa,” aided by his son and heir apparent Saif al-Islam, showed tremendous resilience in shaking off early erratic and bellicose image. Now More has to be done to charter a similar conciliatory domestic policy towards local political opposition and freedom of expression, to which the Jamahiriyya has only offered cosmetic changes.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Stalemate in the Canary Islands

Still on the continuing Moroccan-Spanish crisis surrounding the staged hunger strike of Sahrawi activist Aminatou Haidar. Latest news suggests that Aminatou continues to refuse a second medical examination to assess her health. Both Spain and Morocco are facing mounting pressure amidst several reports of Haidar's deteriorating health at Lanzarote Airport in the Canary Islands. The blogosphere is buzzing about the Haidar affair with several strongly condemning the Moroccan intransigence and Spanish alleged connivance with their southern neighbors, especially from pro-secession blogs.

It is clear that Morocco will continue to press its position amidst sheepish support from some in the EU and an overwhelming political and popular support, judging from comments on Moroccan press sites and blogs. However, if Haidar's health continues to worsen leading to her death, Morocco would find itself in a tight spot with Spain and the international community.

Haidar’s sit-in and hunger strike have already generated intense press coverage in Europe and the Maghreb. The Spanish Press has claimed that Morocco planned for the expulsion of Haidar even before she arrived in La'ayoune on November 13th. Thus, Haidar's alleged renunciation of her citizenship was just a pretext to get her expelled from Morocco.

The stalemate is embarrassing to Spain as well, since the events are unfolding within its territory sparking a fervent debate among the political elite in the kingdom. The socialist-led government of PM Zapatero is ardently looking for a swift resolution of the problem. Some in Spain have even called for tough diplomatic measures against Morocco, which at this point, is holding true to Mohammed VI's new tough dichotomous line of either you are "a patriot or a traitor" on the issue of the Western Sahara. Unfortunately for Aminatou Haidar, she is considered to be in the latter category as she has been labeled by Moroccan press, state and political elite as a conspirator against Morocco's territorial integrity.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Saga of Aminatou Haidar

Spain has formally requested that Morocco issues a passport for Sahrawi activist Aminatou Haidar, amidst worries about her health as she continues on a three-week long hunger strike at Lanzarote Airport in the Canary Islands. Aminatou Haidar renounced her Moroccan citizenship in al-'Ayoun airport last November, claiming that she was visiting the Western Sahara and not Morocco on a trip from the Canary Islands. In a publicity stunt, Haidar, accompanied by two Spanish journalists refused to fill out " Morocco" in her entry card at the airport, provoking her arrest and expulsion back to the Canary Islands. Spain and other European countries have exercised considerable pressure on Morocco to re-issue a passport for Haidar and allow her to go back to Morocco.

Moroccan authorities seem intransigent on the issue and claim that it will be difficult to grant Haidar her citizenship back, after she has allegedly renounced it. Earlier in November, Mohammed VI in a televised address on the occasion of the 34th anniversary of the Green March,  issued a stern warning to all Moroccans that doubt the "Moroccanity" of the Western Sahara, stating: 
Let me clearly say there is no more room for ambiguity or deceit: either a person is Moroccan, or is not. There can be no more duplicity or evading of duties. Now is the time for clear, unambiguous stances, and for responsible conduct. One is either a patriot, or a traitor. There is no halfway house. One cannot enjoy the rights and privileges of citizenship, only to abuse them and conspire with the enemies of the homeland.



Wednesday, December 2, 2009

European Malaise with Islam

Not Maghrebi news per se, but this has been on mind lately, especially in light of the Swiss potential ban on mosque minarets. Reading this piece in the New York Review accentuated my utter puzzlement with this European malaise with Islam, taking on one of the most controversial Muslim European intellectuals, Tariq Ramadan.

The author reviews two books, one of which is Tariq Ramadan's latest What I Believe. Ramadan felt compelled to write such a short book in order to explain his views on Islam, which he has articulated over the past 25 years. The reviewer advances Caroline Fourest's book Brother Tariq: The Doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan as a reference for criticizing Ramadan. However, that book should hardly serve as a reference. In a recent show on French TV France 3, Ramadan debated Fourest on her charges in the book, in which he found more than 200 citation errors and misquotes. It is also odd that the fervor against Ramadan and the charges of "doublespeak" seem to center around his lineage to maternal grandfather Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist father Said Ramadan. Do we need him to abjure his family ties to remove that specter of fundamentalism?

Ramadan has always been clear in his argument for promoting Ijtihad (interpretive reasoning), and for a new reading of Quranic and Hadithic texts in areas of social and interpersonal affairs. His much publicized call for a moratorium, during a debate with Nicholas Sarkozy in 2003, on corporal punishment, stoning and death penalty was an indication of an Islamologist's serious attempt to force Muslims to adopt a pedagogical stance towards their scripture when it does not pertain to creed or the fundamental beliefs of the religion.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Jail for Moroccan Human Rights Activist


It has become customary to report state attacks on freedom of expression in Morocco. The latest episode in this unfortunate trend took place Tuesday. A court in Casablanca upheld an earlier court's three-year jail sentence against human rights activist Chakib Khayari, who previously accused some high-level civil servants of aiding in the cannabis trafficking. Khayari is the head of the Human Rights Association of the Rif region in the north of Morocco.

As I reported in earlier posts, this regressive trend of stifling dissent is becoming the norm in the kingdom. The margin of tolerance is lower and lower and indicates the regime's inability to deal or absorb this form of dissent. The future trajectory of the state and its purported commitment to democratic reform inevitably has to go through the path of political expression. Such continuous repression of all forms of journalistic and individual criticism of the government and the regime will only serve to erode the last vestiges of entente between regime and society.

Morocco and its people deserve at a minimum the right to address the most pernicious of topics. Drug trafficking is one of those dossiers that has to be subjected to open investigation and debate. The fact that the state moved quickly against Khayari only reinforces his allegations against state officials. 

Friday, November 20, 2009

"Hereditary Republicanism" in MENA


The Middle East and North Africa is a region known for authoritarian innovations. Their menu of institutional manipulation and political engineering is extensive, and will soon feature yet another innovation. Authoritarian republics are setting the stage for a new political system: "hereditary republics." This is of course not without precedent in the region following in the footsteps of Syria's late Hafidh al-Assad, who bequeathed the Syrian republican "kingdom" to his son Bashar. 

Several aging dictators are positioning their offspring for an eventual changing of the guards. In Egypt, it's Mubarak's son Gamal; in Libya, it is Qaddafi's son Saif al-Islam. Now it is Tunisia's and Ageria's turn. It is rumored that Algeria's Bouteflika is grooming his brother Said for power. As for Tunisia, allegedly increasingly under the sway of  Ben 'Ali's wife Leila Trabelsi, it is Sakhr al-Materi son in law of Ben 'Ali, who is favored to succeed the aging and ailing president.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Girls for Qaddafi

Brother leader Qaddafi is in the news again. According to Der Spiegel, the Colonel in Italy for a World hunger Summit, has put ads for Italian beauties to come join him to "exchange views. " Instead, Qaddafi gifted them with a Quran and 50 euros. He never ceases to surprise the king of all kings of Africa.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Royal Dahir in Morocco

The Moroccan French weekly Tel Quel, recently censured by the state for its attempt to publish a public opinion survey on king Mohammed VI, devoted its centerfold to an article on the Dahir. A dahir (royal decree) is a royal discretionary act in regulatory, administrative and legislative domains, and one of the manifestations of the unbridled institutional powers of the Moroccan sovereign. During the process of modern state formation, the constitution replaced the old system of consultation with a new representative body. However, the legislative body is a rubber stamp institution not characterized by democratic practices such as those present in western style polities. The dahir, on the other hand, persisted as one of the main features of Morocco's political system.

The use of dahir in Morocco is different than the discretionary powers that extra-presidential systems possess in Latin America. The dahir emanates from the monarch’s religious authority and is treated by the legislature and the cabinet as a sacred text. In keeping with Islamic traditions, the parliament and the local assemblies are consultative branches of the royal power.

This was made apparent after Hassan II’s accession to power, when he addressed the parliament in 1963: “I shall bestow upon you part of the powers that have been with the ruling family for twelve centuries…I have made the Constitution by my very hands, and it has not given the deputies any powers, only obligations.” This authoritarian feature is characterized by the absolute power of the monarch, who can at his will, dissolve the parliament. It is noteworthy here that the monarchy has never considered its perennial status as authoritarian. On the contrary, it has maintained its Islamic-democratic nature, since any constitutional pronouncements are subject to plebiscitary powers of the jam’a (community). However, in the absence of free competitive elections, strong legislature and political participation, the consultative process is far from its Islamic ideal and has since the independence been used to legitimize royal absolutism.

Consultation is also buttressed through royal discretionary power of dahir, which constitutes the single most important source of legislation in Morocco. All royal decisions are taken under the guise of dahir. These are above the political system and all constitutional texts. In fact, the constitution itself was promulgated according to the 1963 dahir, which effectively enabled the king to exercise his dominance over all political aspects of the Moroccan system.

Dahirs have the force and appearance of laws, always begin with a religious greeting and are signed under the title of commander of the faithful. This is done to invoke the religious stature of royal decrees, which are not subject to annulment or appeal. Dahirs were codified into an “official bulletin” in the years after 1969 with the publication of the finance law. The continuity of this institutional decision-making practice is invoked in all royal appointments and is given the formal status similar to that of ancient sharifian letters and correspondence. The dahir is a sacred act of sovereignty, immune to all judicial processes and inviolable.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Free Fatma Riahi


In support of a fellow blogger, I post this for Fatma Riahi, Tunisian dissident, whose weblog, Fatma Arabicca blog, was shut down by the Tunisian authorities. Fatma Riahi was also arrested for running the Debat Tunisie weblog and its parody of Ben Ali's landslide election of October 25th. There is a facebook page dedicated to Fatma calling on Tunisian authorities to free the blogger. As Michael Dunn opines Arab regimes have to realize that shutting down blogs and restricting freedom of expression on the Internet, brings more attention to the set of issues, cartoons and parodies they seek to censure.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

More Hardline Approach towards the Press in Morocco

Just an update on the case of the two journalists from the Arabic daily Akhbar al-Yawm, who published a cartoon deemed insulting the Moroccan flag and Prince Ismail, cousin of King Mohammed VI. Editor Taoufiq Bou'achrine and Cartoonist Khalid Gueddar were found guilty of "desecrating the national flag and failing to show proper respect for a member of the royal family." They were sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of 100,000 Dirhams. 

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Landslide Victory for Ben 'Ali in Tunisia

As it was expected, Zine al-'Abidine Ben 'Ali won a fifth presidential term in today's elections in Tunisia. According to early results released by the Ministry of the Interior, Ben 'Ali won in a landslide receiving 89.62% of the votes. The newly re-elected president's support didn't dip below 84% in most of the 26 regions of Tunisia. In two of the regions, Ben 'Ali won 99% of the vote. Ben 'Ali came to power in 1987 after former president and independence leader Habib Bourguiba was declared unfit to rule. In the last two decades, Ben 'Ali set the country on an impressive economic trajectory, while maintaining an authoritarian political rule dominated by his Democratic Constitutional Rally party RCD.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Crackdown in pre-Election Tunisia.

Some more articles on Tunisia's upcoming elections and the crackdown on the opposition and the press. The LA Times lists some of these egregious breaches of individual and group liberties on the eve of the presidential and legislative elections. For instance, leftist candidate of the Ettajdid Movement, and probably most serious rival of Ben Ali, Ahmed Ibrahim saw his manifesto seized by the  Tunisian authorities. The Independent's Adrian Hamilton has a similar piece on the stifling of the freedom of expression and ability of the opposition to contest freely and fairly. Hamilton provides a scathing portrait of "a soft dictatorship" in which "political control is more discrete and more legalistic." 

Monday, October 19, 2009

Portal on the Tunisian Elections


Maghrebia has a useful portal on the upcoming October 25th elections in Tunisia. The page features short synopses on the four candidates for the presidency: Ahmed Ibrahim of the Ettajdid movement, Ahmed Innoubli of the Unionist Democratic Union (UDU), Mohamed Bouchiha of the Popular Unity Party (PUP), and the favorite and current president Zine el-'Abidine ben 'Ali of the party in power Constitutional Democratic Party (RCD). Fora biased state coverage of the elections, see the official Tunisian Press Agency's online page devoted to campaign for the incumbent president Ben 'Ali.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Upcoming Elections in Tunisia

An interesting article in the Arab Reform Bulletin on the upcoming October 25th presidential and legislative elections in Tunisia. It is expected the current president Zine al-'Abidine Ben Ali will win a sixth presidential term, while his ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) will win the majority of seats in the Chamber of Deputies. In case of his all probable re-reelection, the 73 year-old Ben Ali will be ineligible to run for re-election again as the Tunisian constitution sets the maximum age for presidency at 75 years. But we have seen this episode elsewhere in the Arab authoritarian system. One can definitely see a constitutional amendment to raise the age requirement beyond 75 years to accommodate Ben Ali's possible future bids for the presidency. 

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Women and Politics in Morocco

As women continue their struggle for gender equality, various social and economic problems beset their full integration in Moroccan society. Last June, some 3400 women candidates won seats to local city councils around Morocco and the first female mayor of a major city in the history of Morocco was elected in the city of Marrakech. however, million of others continue to be politically alienated and economically dependent. The recent edition of the Arab Reform Bulletin has an interesting short piece on the plight of women in the kingdom and the state's apparent attempt to co-opt them at least politically at the moment, in order to offset their vast marginalization on the social and economic fronts.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Interpol Arrest Warrants in the Ben Barka Case SUSPENDED!


As it was expected, the Prosecutor's office in Paris has decided to suspend the arrest warrants against the four Moroccans sought in the disappearance of Mehdi Ben Barka citing more information was requested from Interpol. The warrants were issued for the arrest of, among others, General Hosni Benslimane, head of the Royal Gendarmerie (pictured above). Some Moroccan pundits argue that France's push behind the issuance of the warrants and their swift suspension is an attempt to flex French political muscles over its sphere of influence, that for France, also comprises the francophone and former protectorate Morocco. Moroccan Arabic Daily al-Massae reports that according to a high level anonymous French source, the whole episode sought to "shake" Moroccans and Morocco's political system by opening up old wounds as a punishment for the recent Moroccan decision to purchase U.S. F16 fighter jets over French "Rafale."

Monday, October 5, 2009

Interpol Arrest Warrants in the Ben Barka Case


Interpol has issued international arrest warrants in the case of the 1965 disappearance of Moroccan leftist activist and opposition leader Mehdi ben Barka. The warrants are for four Moroccans allegedly involved in the kidnapping and disappearance of Ben Barka in Paris. Among the four wanted are General Hosni Benslimane, head of the Royal Gendarmerie and powerful military man in the kingdom; General Abdelhaq al-Qadiri, former head of Morocco's internal intelligence services, and former intelligence officers Miloud Tounzi, aka Larbi Chtouki, and Abdelhaq 'Ash'ashi. The case of Ben Barka has captivated the Moroccan political psyche for the past forty years, and it is highly unlikely that the warrants will be served at all. However, these warrants are seen as an indictment of the former regime of Hassan II and its possible involvement in the disappearance of the opposition and non-aligned movement leader. Mehdi ben Barka was a leading figure behind the emergence of the Union National des Forces Populaires (UNFP), which broke away from the Istiqlal party in 1959. Ben Barka, along with Fquih Basri, establsihed the New Left movement, which among other things, sought to overthrow the monarchical regime and to establish a socialist-leaning republic.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Another Attack on the Press in Morocco


Over the last couple of days, Morocco has been the scene of yet another state investigation into the press. This time, Akhbar al-Yawm has been closed until further notice and is target to prosecution after it published a caricature depicting the newly married Prince Moulay Ismael on a wedding platform ('amariya), and a partially complete Star of David on the Moroccan flag in the background. The palace has already denounced the cartoon and its attempt to "politicize a family ceremony." The editor of the daily Akhbar al-Yawm Taoufiq Boua'chrine and caricaturist Khaled Kedar are under investigation for "insulting the national flag."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Qaddafi's Speech at the UN: Some Preliminary Thoughts

In recent weeks, it seems Qaddafi has been making the news quite regularly. His latest show was delivered yesterday in a one of the most visible of all world platforms. While many have been quick to dismiss it as lunacy, I propose we look at it in a different light. Qaddafi’s speech at the United Nations' General Assembly makes some useful points that all outside the Permanent Five in the Security council could agree on. Granted the style, antics and the delivery leave much to be desired, the Colonel had a point when he argued the largely ineffective international body is in need of reform. The United Nations has long been relegated to a forum for great powers to legitimize and impose a new world order, which is in essence, shaped in their image.

Qaddafi’s speech emanates from 60 years worth of the developing world’s frustrations with the world body. The Colonel unleashed on the world community demands to investigate everything from the death of Patrice Lumumba to the execution of Saddam Hussein. While such claims are outlandish, they highlight the ever-increasing rift between the developed world powers and the majority-developing world that has been disempowered and disenfranchised from any meaningful decisions at the world stage. Those that claim the United Nations’ General Assembly has lost moral legitimacy for allowing Qaddafi and Ahmadinejad a platform to spew their objectionable rhetoric seem to forget that the Assembly is exactly the forum for all forms of discourse.

Qaddafi’s unorthodox 90-minute diatribe, while lacking all forms of decorum, is his right as the leader of a sovereign state, member of the United Nations and president of the current session of the General Assembly. Internally, his regime has been a reprehensible panacea of political repression for the last 40 years. That, however, does not exclude him from the company of other equally rogue world leaders represented or present at the United Nations. His speech has only reminded the world of Qaddafi’s theatrics, and it is a missed opportunity for the Colonel (“King of Kings of Africa, as he was introduced yesterday) to persuade the world that he has somehow corrected his erratic behavior and is ready to join the circle of respectable world leaders.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Moment of Contentment: The 40th Anniversary of the Qadhafi Regime

One of my fellow Maghrebists was kind enough to contribute this piece to our blog. Professor Yehudit Ronen, Political Studies Department, Bar-Ilan University and Senior Research Fellow, Moshe Dayan Center, Tel Aviv University, is the author of Qaddafi's Libya in World Politics published by Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2008

A Moment of Contentment: The 40th Anniversary of the Qadhafi Regime

September 1, 2009 marked the 40th anniversary of Muammar al-Qadhafi's overthrow of the Libyan monarchy and establishment of the Great Socialist Peoples Libyan Arab Jamahiriyya. Four days of lavish commemoration, complete with a military parade, marked the event. For Qadhafi, the achievement has been singular. No head of state in the world today (apart from the Sultan of Brunei) matches his longevity in power.

Looking back on Qadhafi's military coup detat in 1969, almost nobody in Libya, let alone outside of the country, had heard of the young army officer, who had burst forth - literally and metaphorically - from the depths of the Libyan desert. With unprecedented nationalist, Arab and Islamic zeal, he seized the reins of power from King Idris al-Sanusi, who had led the country since independence in 1951. At that moment, the Libyan state and society embarked on an entirely new journey in all facets of life, which would be marked by wide vicissitudes encompassing both significant successes and profound, even catastrophic failures.

In contrast to 1969, Qadhafi's Libya is today most definitely on the map. Neither Africa, nor the Arab world, nor major international powers have been untouched by Qadhafi and his policies.

Qadhafi's successful accumulation of power over his countrys domestic and foreign policies, and his resulting impact internationally, stemmed from a variety of factors, including: his nationalization, early on, of Libya's immense oil resources, which enabled him to accumulate unprecedented power (for Libya) in the military-security realm; his charismatic and unconventional personality, along with a militantly revolutionary and anti-imperialist agenda; and the important backing provided by the Soviet Union in its global competition with the United States during Qadhafi's first twenty years in power.

Libyan political life during the 1970s and 1980s was highlighted by a number of developments: the implementation of Qadhafi's Peoples Power political system, in line with his self-styled revolutionary ideology, which included the propagation of the Third Universal Theory as formulated in Qadhafi's three-part Green Book, which he touted as the only genuine democratic rule in modern times; the substantial upgrading of the socio-economic fabric of life and overall welfare of the Libyan population; the construction of the Great Man-Made River to transfer water from aquifers under the Sahara in southern Libya to its populated coastal areas in the north; an iron-fisted crackdown against Libyan opposition figures and groups, whether at home or abroad; and initial steps to suppress the first manifestations of a radical Islamic insurgency, which would seek to eradicate Qadhafi's infidel regime, notwithstanding its sworn Islamic character.

One of the most prominent features of Libyan foreign policy during these initial decades was Qadhafi's continuous efforts to shape the Arab world and African politics according to his own pan-Arab, anti-Western and anti-Israeli predilections. These included military interventions in Africa (highlighted by disastrous wars in Chad and Uganda ); chronic hostility with Egypt, which even escalated into a brief military confrontation in 1977; active subversion of pro-Western regimes in Africa and actions to undermine Israel's interests on the continent; strategic and political collaboration with the Soviets; and involvement in international terrorism, particularly directed against the US, with whom relations had run a troubled course from the very moment of Qadhafi's ascent to power.

Indeed, the Libyan-American conflict reached two peaks during this period, challenging Qadhafi's hold on power in an unprecedented fashion. The first was the American air raid on Tripoli and Benghazi on 15 April 1986. The second was the Lockerbie dispute, which came to the fore in the wake of American and British accusations of Libyan responsibility for the explosion of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland while on route from London to the US in December 1988.

The last twenty years has witnessed a dramatic alteration of Libyas domestic and foreign affairs. In the wake of the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, Libya was left alone and defenseless in international politics. In view of the Lockerbie-induced UN sanctions against Libya, imposed in 1992, and America's two military campaigns (1991, 2003) against Iraqs Saddam Hussein, Qadhafi internalized the fact that the US was capable and willing to flex its muscles in the Middle East against states deemed hostile to its interests. The tangible political inputs of his son and possible heir, Saif al-Islam, were also influential in the evolution of Libyan policies.

It took seven years of UN sanctions to compel Qadhafi to extradite to Scotland two of Libyas citizens suspected of responsibility for the Lockerbie explosion, in return for the sanctions suspension. Even so, the Lockerbie dispute would remain a central issue on Libyas foreign affairs agenda, as well as have an enormous impact on the countrys domestic affairs, including Qadhafi's continued political survival.

In early 2001, the Lockerbie trial concluded with a guilty verdict and lengthy prison sentence for Abd al-Basit al-Maqrahi. (He has just been released from prison in Scotland on the grounds that he suffers from terminal prostate cancer, and was greeted with open arms upon his return to Libya.) The verdict, accompanied by mounting threats and pressures, compelled Qadhafi to alter his conduct in favor of diplomatic engagement with the West. These pressures included the growing menace posed by Libyas violent Islamist opposition, the fears of becoming the next Iraq, i.e. being militarily invaded by the US, and economic difficulties stemming from the devastating combination of UN sanctions and the cumulative decline of the countrys oil revenue as a result of chronically sluggish global oil prices.

Dramatic results were not long in coming. In late 2003, Libya announced its decision to dismantle its clandestine nuclear and other WMDs program, halt its drive to develop long-range missiles and open all weapons stockpiles to international inspection. As a quid pro quo, Libya was removed from the US State Departments list of state sponsors of terrorism. This, in turn, enabled Qadhafi to proceed apace towards his economic goals and attain greater political stability at home, while reaping a series of diplomatic gains in foreign affairs.

Hence, Libya can no longer be considered a pariah state. After 40 years of tumultuous times, Qadhafi is the Great Survivor of contemporary international politics, and is now contentedly celebrating his ascent to power.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Press questioned yet again in Morocco!

In the Aftermath of the unprecedented palace communique about King Mohammed VI's health and contraction of Rotavirus, the state court in Rabat will launch an investigation into the Arabic-daily al-Jarida al-Oula, as it has summoned both its editor Ali Anouzla and journalist Bouchra Dhou, who published a story challenging official press releases on the health of King Mohammed VI. The paper claimed the King’s illness would disrupt his public schedule and his Ramadan religious seminars. This intervention in the media continues a recent alarming state trend to stifle freedom of the press in the kingdom, after the controversial decision last month to ban editions of two weeklies, TelQuel and Nichane, which contained a public opinion poll about the King. It is interesting to note that this ban has backlashed into an online movement called the “9 Percent Movement” after the 9 percent of survey respondents who expressed their dissatisfaction with Mohammed VI's performance in his first 10 years on the throne.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Qaddafi's 40th Anniversary in Power

Qaddafi's 40th anniversary in charge of Libya has been foreshadowed by the release of Lockerbie Bomber al-Megrahi, and international condemnation of Libyan jubilant welcome of the convicted bomber. Amidst the lavish celebrations, the discussion should center on Qaddafi's record in office, especially in the last two decades where he has taken the oil-rich country down the path of economic and political stagnation. Agence France Presse (AFP) reports that promises of a written constitution and privatization of the state press are yet to be achieved. The aging colonel is seemingly bent on further cementing his authoritarian regime and laying the grounds for his son, and heir apparent, Seif al-Islam to take over the reigns of power in the Jamahirriya. In his defense, Seif al-Islam has advocated political reforms in the past, but it is premature to ascertain whether there is any real commitment behind that support.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Reforms and Islamic Radicalism in Morocco

This recent article in the New York Times highlight the sluggish pace of reform in Morocco in recent years. Erlanger and Mekhennet contend, rather unconvincingly, that the king has reversed course on democratic reforms under pressure from Islamic radicalism. With the increasing threat of AQIM in neighboring Algeria and Sahel countries, and growing conservative forces at home, the king has chosen to freeze meaningful political and social reforms until further notice. However, state officials still maintain that the king is still committed to vast political and economic changes, but places a high premium on the "balance between freedom and social cohesion." This is in reference to the massive crackdown on Islamist radicals and Islamist politicians, who are in jail for plotting acts of terrorism according to the state. Maintaining that balance between freedom and social cohesion has also meant censorship and prior restraint against major independent publications. The case of the French language weekly Tel Quel and its Arabic sister Nichane are indicative of this alarming trend of limiting freedom of the press.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Gaddafi's Clown Show

Libya is in the news these last few days after the release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdul Basset Ali al-Megrahi. Amir Taheri provides a scathing account of Gaddafi's authoritarian regime. Taheri paints a gloomy picture of a mismanaged and corrupt political system, which over the last 40 years, has squandered billions of dollars in oil revenue: "Over the past 40 years the colonel has had something like a trillion dollars in oil revenues to play with. That much money could have done wonders in a nation of four or five million. However, visitors to Libya would be struck by the rundown aspect of public infrastructure and the widespread poverty. A few new buildings in the capital Tripoli may impress some Westerners. Elsewhere, however, many Libyans live in substandard homes and experience daily power cuts, water rationing and frequent shortages of staple foodstuffs. Parts of Benghazi resemble slums in black Africa, not neighbourhoods in the second-largest city in an oil-rich country. In neighbouring Malta, one often runs into Libyan refugees begging in the streets."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Suicide Bombing in Mauritania

Mauritania witnessed its fist suicide bombing on Saturday. The event took place at a proximity from the French Embassy in Nouakchott. The suicide bomber has been identified as Ahmedou Ould Sidi Ould Vyh al-Barka, 22 years-old from Arafat district in Nouakchott (graphic pictures of bomber here). It is unclear at this point if he is tied to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) at all. The attack killed the bomber and injured six other bystanders. It is worth noting that these attacks come at the heels of the contentious elections of President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who during his campaign and recent inauguration, vowed to combat terrorism in a clear reference to the growing threat of AQIM in the region.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Prior Restraint in Morocco.

The Ministry of the Interior in Morocco has blocked the publication of the two upcoming issues of the French weekly magazine Tel Quel and the Arabic weekly Nichane, both directed by the controversial Ahmed Benchemsi. The magazines have marked the tenth anniversary of King Mohammed VI's enthronement by dedicating a series of issues to the record of the king in office. The Ministry has singled out the upcoming issues number 384 and 385 of Tel Quel and issues number 212 and 213 of Nishan, for "assault on the person of the king and Morocco's socio-political foundations." According to a communique released by the Tel Quel Group, the issues in question would have pulished an opinion poll done in partnership with the French daily Le Monde on the approval rating of King Mohammed VI's ten-year on the throne. The group claims that the results of the poll were positive for the monarchy, as %91 of those surveyed approved of the king's management of the country. Tel Quel has always dared to go where other press outlets could not, and its director Ahmed Benchemsi is known for his weekly poignant editorials. No subject, political, social or cultural is taboo for the weekly french magazine. It remains to be seen whether the state will throw the book at the magazine and Benchemsi, or whether this is a mere slap on the wrist and a warning of things to come in the future of Tel Quel and Nichane.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Freedom of the Press in Morocco

A new report by Reporters without Borders hails the relative relaxation of restrictions on press freedom in Morocco. Still, it also highlights the state's tough stance on those journalists who dare transgress against the monarchy or issues of the territorial integrity of the kingdom. The examples of Rachid Ninni and Aboubaker al-Jamai are reminders that in the absence of true information autonomy, Moroccan journalists are still under the confines of a repressive press code in dire need of reform.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Early Election Results in Mauritania

Despite the results of recent polls, which projected a tight three-way race between Ould Abdel Aziz, Ould Boulkheir and Ould Daddah, Taqadoumy forum reports a sizable lead for Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz in the initial stages of vote counting. As the results keep coming, Ould Abdel Aziz seems destined to win the presidential elections with over 53% of the votes with 80% of the ballots counted. opposition has already denounced "the electoral masquerade, which seeks to "legitimize the coup," declared Messaoud Ould Boulkheir, the principal rival of Ould Abdel Aziz.

Elections in Mauritania

Mauritanians head to the polls today in landmark presidential elections. The front runner is Ould Abdel Aziz, former junta leader who is running on a platform based on populism and being anti-Israel. Ould Abdel Aziz has also called for an end to corruption and instituting principles for good governance. According to recent polls, General Ould Abdel Aziz is trailed by Ahmed Ould Dada and Messaoud Ould Boulkheir. The former's agenda emphasizes the morals and values of "justice, equity, tolerance." Ould Boulkheir has espoused ideals of democracy and human rights, and has pledged his support for trade unions. There are high hopes that the elections will "renew lost trust" with Mauritanians after the 2008 coup that toppled the government of democratically-elected president Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Decline of Political Islam?

Interesting article on the demise of political Islam thesis. Nathan Field argues that the decline in Islamist electoral gains in authoritarian political systems is hardly a measure to assess the potential end or actual decline in Islamism. At the societal level, Islamists are engaged in their primary objective which is Da'wa and predication. The whole post-Islamism stance advanced by French scholars Gilles Keppel and Oliver Roy is premature and naive. Islamism is a current socio-political reality that will be part of the landscape of Muslim societies for years, if not decades, to come. In the absence of real political ideologies that could bring about concrete plans to immanent political and economic ills, Islamism remains the solution for many in the Muslim world.

Friday, July 10, 2009

al-Qaeda in North Africa

A growing and important threat to the Maghreb, the Sahel region and the rest of the Middle East, as a resurgent affiliate of al-Qaeda will only embolden other Jihadist groups in the region to seek a second wave of attacks against both foreign nationals and local societies. These groups, including AQIM, are not gangs of criminals devoid of any ideological political goals.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

First female general in Algeria

After Morocco's second ever female city mayor of Marrakech, Algeria has now its first female general. The Jerusalem Post reports that "Colonel Fatma-Zohra Aardjoun was named a general at the National Defense Ministry, in a promotion ceremony for the National Army, along with seventeen other male colonels. Four generals were also promoted to the rank of major-general."

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

In Morocco, an Alternative to Iran

A flattering portrait of Morocco in today's Washington Post. Anne Applebaum sets the kingdom as a model for "slow but profound transformation from traditional monarchy to constitutional monarchy, acquiring along the way real political parties, a relatively free press, new political leaders -- the mayor of Marrakesh is a 33-year-old woman -- and a set of family laws that strive to be compatible both with sharia and international conventions on human rights." As I opined elsewhere, it would be a stretch claiming that Morocco is a constitutional monarchy, as the monarch still holds vast executive, legislative and discretionary powers.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Positive Step in Mauritania

The United Nations and the African Union have hailed the Mauritanian decree setting up a transitional government ahead of the presidential elections next month. This step comes at the heels of the Framework Agreement, concluded between the three major Mauritanian political poles, in Dakar on 2 June 2009.and signed in Nouackchott on 4 June. Analysts view the transitional government as a prelude towards setting up a democratically elected government in Mauritania.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Why is it that the Arabs don't revolt?

Rami G. Khouri tackles this fascinating question. The Maghreb, like the rest of the Arab world, suffers from this social quiescence. However, his argument that factors of nation and state legitimacy, efficacy and credibility highlight the difference between Arab quiescence and Iranian revolts is not sufficient, as there are various micro level factors such as the nature of the political systems that govern each of the Arab countries and the great extent of political management style that is exercised within those states. More analysis is needed with case by case differentiation.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Secret talks between Morocco and POLISARIO?

Moroccan Daily al-Massae reports that Spain, Qatar and Libya are to host secret talks between Morocco and the POLISARIO front. While this is not confirmed, this could be an interesting development given the current attemtps by UN mediator Christopher Ross to start a new round of negotiations between the parties involved. Ross just finished his visit to Algiers where he met Bouteflika. He is scheduled in Rabat tomorrow Saturday.

Monday, June 22, 2009

First woman mayor in Morocco

Just some breaking news from Marrakech: The first woman city mayor in Morocco has been voted in the red city's city council meeting today. Fatema Zahra al-Mansouri, a 33 year-old lawyer from the Party of Authenticity and Modernity, will assume the new responsibilities for the next six years, replacing Omar Jazouli who has been at the helm in Marrakech for 12 years. al-Arabiya reports what Sheikh Biyadellah, SG of PAM said: "reflects the image of a modern Morocco."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Response to Obama's Cairo Speech

I was asked by the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy in Washington D.C. to contribute a short response to Obama's Cairo speech to be compiled with other comments from scholars and experts on the Middle East and North Africa. These comments will be forwarded to Mr. Obama. The following is the text of my response:

Mr. Obama's speech to the Muslim world hit most of the major notes he was supposed to address. His eloquent speech is not a general policy formulation towards the Muslim world, but extended a much needed olive branch to the Muslim world after eight years of marginalization and short-term political goals. Having said that, Mr. Obama's has to show us his concrete plans for revamping the Arab-Israeli peace process and more importantly to demonstrate a true commitment to political reforms.

A change in tone is not sufficient to reverse years of irresponsible US foreign policy in the Middle East and towards the Muslim world. No longer can the US turn a blind eye as the Muslim world sinks deeper and deeper into political and economic decay. In his speech, Mr. Obama never promoted the building of democratic institutions and devoted little space for democracy promotion. He generally noted that the governments “should reflect the will of the people” and that citizens should “have a say” in how they are governed. His administration has shown an awkward pragmatism in its foreign policy by sacrificing human rights and political reforms for the sake of regional and global stability. This was particularly clear in Mr. Obama's grand gesture towards Iran during the celebration of Nayrouz. A gesture that Iran has largely shunned amidst continuing abuses of human rights. The choice of Egypt itself, ruled since 1981 by an aging dictator in the process of grooming his son for power, is indicative of this blind pragmatism.

Mr. Obama's speech is definitely a departure from the Bush discourse and is applauded for signaling a sea of change in U.S. relations with the Muslim world. Now is the opportune time to engage the Arab Muslim world in a meaningful commitment to the rule of law and fair transparent elections. Mr. Obama needs to further press for good governance, rule of law and accountability in order to increase the scope of individual and group liberties.

It would be a grave mistake if the US abandons those ideals which have taken a back seat to political and strategic calculations in the making of U.S. foreign policy past or present. The past has taught us that continued political oppression was key in fanning the flames of those bent on setting Islam on a collision course with the rest of humanity. Mr. Obama you have the Muslim world in the palm of your hands but only for a short time, I hope you can seize on this immense capital but daunting responsibility.

More on Morocco's Local Elections

I continue to hear horror stories of electoral fraud and irregularities. The electoral process in Morocco is rife with violations related mainly to the use of unregulated money. Some candidates went door to door armed with Qurans and wads of cash. After the target resident swears an oath of allegiance to a particular candidate on the Quran, they receive up to 250 Dirhams/20 dollars. I also hear that this has been done by almost all political parties as it has become a common feature of campaigning in the country.

All the party list winners are currently engaged in intensified negotiations for the leadership of city and county councils. For the most part, parties have to navigate through compromises with PAM elected politicians in order to determine the make-up of those councils. These negotiations often involve acts of ideological transhumance. No party is firmly committed to an ideological vision: In Agadir dominated by the USFP, for instance, there is increasing chatter of a possible coalition with the Islamist PJD. In Marrakech, it seems that the dominant mayor of the city, al-Jazouli of the Constitutional Union Party, is facing a daunting challenge from PAM's Adnan Ben Abdallah for the majority of the 91-member council. There is also a battle for mayor of the capital of the Kingdom Rabat. The current mayor al-Bahraoui of the Popular Movement party is facing a potentially damaging coalition between the PJD and PAM. Thus, it seems that all roads to local governance go by PAM, further consecrating its status as a dominant force in the new political landscape of Morocco.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

PAM victory in Morocco!

It's official: The new palace Party of Authenticity and Modernity, as expected, has won most of the seats in the Moroccan local elections. The Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) won 6,015 seats, giving it 21.7 percent of the vote, ahead of the governing Istiqlal (Independence) party with 5,292 seats and 19.1 percent. The Ministry of the Interior has reported thousands of irregularities. The Ministry of the Interior has reported a 52 percent voter turnout; markedly higher than the 37 percent turnout in the last legislatives of 2007. The Islamist Party of Justice and Development won a meager 1,513 seats and 5.5 percent of the vote.This is expected as the PJD didn't contest in a lot of the rural areas, and focused on the major urban centers where it has traditionally enjoyed large support from professionals, university professors and students. The elections succeeded in achieving regime goals of avoiding voter apathy of 2007 and further marginalizing the Islamists. The victory of PAM signals a shift in the political elite in Morocco, and analysts predict larger gains for the party, currently in opposition, in the next legislative elections of 2012 and potentially ruling the government.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Communal Elections in Morocco.

Early results of the 2009 communal elections point to a victory of the four main parties of Istiqlal, Constitutional Union, RNI, USFP and the newcomer PAM. The Ministry of the Interior reports a 51 percent voter turnout, which is an improvement from the meager 37 percent of the legislative elections of 2007. However, it is slightly less than the 55 percent turnout of the last communal elections in 2003. Various Moroccan newspapers report incidents related to electoral irregularities. Several fights erupted when members of several parties continued campaigning the very same day of the elections. Others paid and drove voters to election booths. I will be posting election results as they become available.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Ahead of Morocco's Communal elections

I have been in Morocco for a few days now and have been following the various debates ahead of the communal elections. It seems that old electoral practices are alive and well. There is a complete disregard for campaign rules and an utter disinterest and cynicism on the part of most Moroccans I talked to. A feeling of futility dominates most conversations on these elections. There are also some new developments in the Moroccan political scene. The party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM), which just announced its departure from the government coalition and joined the opposition, benefits from a wider coverage in Moroccan newspapers and web blogs. The party of Fouad Ali-Himma seems destined to victory in most of the 22,000+ communes subject to the June 12th electoral contest. Out of 96 deputies who changed political affiliations, in what has been labeled as an act of "transhumance," 50 joined PAM. Sources tell Journal Hebdomadaire that several of those (maybe 20 candidates) have been refused by the Ministry of the Interior. Le Maroc Hebdomadaire online featured the battle between Ali-Himma and the Ministry of the Interior in its May 22 issue. This massive political exodus towards PAM is unparalleled in Moroccan politics and showcases the fragility and ideological immaturity of most political parties in the kingdom. PAM has created a palpable malaise within Morocco's political parties with its populist and pragmatic approach to politics. So as I close these lines, I keep wondering about that day when our politicians would reach the level where they can show genuine strategic, rational and ideological vision.

Fracture in Libya?

Sarah Leah Whitson provides an optimistic view of the Libyan political landscape in the aftermath of the death of its most visible dissident, Fathi al-Jahmi. Whitson writes that the regime is showing signs of fracture as there is a noticeable space for open dissent. This space is still monitored by the state through organizations such as the Qaddafi Foundation for International Charities and Development run by none other than Gaddafi's own son Saif al-Islam. Whitson and others rightly wonder whether this is an attempt to set Saif as heir apparent to his father's rule.

Elections in Mauritania

As Mauritania's June 6th elections approach, no major opposition figures will participate and the election of General Muhammad Ould Abdel-Aziz, who led the August 2008 coup, is almost the forgone conlcusion. Christopher Boucek provides a reading into Mauritanian politics and the likely victory of Ould Abdel-Aziz. Boucek argues that Mauritanian politics are dominated by military personalities despite Abdel-Aziz’s resignation from the High State Council and his subsequent announcement that he would run as a civilian candidate.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Jailed Islamists in Morocco and Algeria

According to Hespress, hundreds of Islamist prisoners have launched a hunger strike in protest of what they called "arbitrary and summary" detention in the aftermath of the May 2003 attacks in Casablanca. speaking of Islamists in jail, Algerian Islamist Amar Saifi, alias Abderrezak El Para renewed his calls for reconciliation and went as far as repenting for his past actions. In a public letter addressed to his commanders, El Para acknowledges the efforts of GSPC founder Hassan Hattab to end the fighting in Algeria: "I'm sorry for what I have done, and I have prayed to God that those who remain in the underground will feel the same," he writes. "Hassan Hattab's action is laudable, as he has put the interest of the nation, an end to the spilling of Algerian blood and an end to fitna, above all other considerations."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

New Forum on the Maghreb

Maghrebia has launched a new service to serve as a platform to engage readers more thoroughly on important issues to the Maghreb region. The forum called Zawaya includes panelists from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and soon, from Mauritania, with diverse backgrounds in human rights, human development issues, democratisation, and women's rights.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Lahcen Daoudi of the PJD on "Transhumance"

In a recent interview, PJD Deputy Secretary General, Lahcen Daoudi, laments the recent trend ahead of the June local elections in Morocco of politicians switching from one party to another in order to improve their chances at the polls. Daoudi warns that this is "dangerous for our democracy, ” and raises concerns about the difficulty with meeting the new quota of 12% for women. According to Daoudi there is just not enough women interested in going through the process of being candidates for elections.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Shari'a and Militancy

A must-read on Sharia and political Islam. Johnson relies on the latest Gallup poll 2008 results which indicates a new understanding of how Muslims view Shari'a, not as a corpus of legal codes promoting theocracy, but good governance. Shari'a has become a manifesto for liberating Muslims from corrupt governments. The challenge remains in chaotic regions, where there is a power vacuum, such as Northwestern Pakistan and Somalia, where tribal leaders have perverted Quranic and Hadithic texts to suit their fossilized view of the religion.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

AQMI in the Maghreb

Another piece in the North Africa Journal on the ever increasing and present threat of AQMI in the region. AQMI has for some time now extended its operations to the Sahara region threatening state interests and tourists in Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad. This is perhaps where most of the International support should lie, as it threatens the stability of the region and gives more ammunition to local regimes in their pursuit for anti-democratic policies.

Post-Election analysis in Algeria

A thought-provoking analysis of the recent re-election of Bouteflika in Algeria, which is perpetuating a cycle of authoritarianism in the country.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Bouteflika's Triumph

At the heels of Bouteflika's much anticipated electoral victory (90% of cast vote according to the Ministry of the Interior), Jacob Mundy sketches a portrait of the rise of Bouteflika in Algeria and his total control of all things political. Mundy argues that Bouteflika's style is much like that of his mentor Houari Boumedienne, in its commitment to heavy state interventionism in the economy and a hawkish foreign policy.

Why the Maghreb matters

A new report by the Potomac Institute and SAIS offers a fresh new outlook on why the Maghreb matters with international system. The future relevance of the region is intrinsically linked to a successful resolution of the Western Sahara conflict through the new Morocco plan. The region cannot be ignored by the International community especially within the context of the global threat of terrorism. Terrorist acts have increased in the MAghreb as the report suggests, and it is incumbent upon the U.S. to assist the countries in the region in combatting this threat. Economically, the U.S. should also seek engagement of the region through a broader Maghreb-US-EU partnership that would further economic growth and political reforms.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Renewed Interest on North Africa

Interesting article in the Christian Science Monitor about the upcoming list of electoral contests in the Maghreb in 2009. Algeria is having its one sided presidential elections this week, Morocco is undergoing municipal elections in June and Tunisia is holding general elections in October. However, as Dana Moss observes, these elections are not indicative of the region's electoral competitiveness, but to the extreme careful regime manipulation of the political systems. Moss also points out to the uneven U.S. strategy towards the region, as it continues to support Morocco through an $110 million assistance strategy plan, while ignoring Algeria and Tunisia's rising socio-economic problems.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Diplomes Chomeurs

Morocco's unemployed graduate movement Diplomes Chomeurs have intensified their protests in the hopes of pressuring the government to make more jobs available in the public sector. Authorities said they are doing the best they can to remedy the crisis. The movement is threatening suicide as a reaction to the perceived inadequate efforts by the government to alleviate their plight.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Let's not Ignore the Maghreb

While the Middle East continues to be the focus of scholarly and policy attention, the Maghreb is not to be forgotten as an area of geo-strategic importance for the U.S. Claude Salhani reminds us of the Maghreb's potential worth for U.S. foreign policy making.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Algeria's Presidential Elections

Ahmed Aghrout and Yahia Zoubir assess the implications of the October 2008 constitutional reforms for Algeria's April 9 presidential election. The election is likely to produce no change to the power structure in the country, dominated by the Bouteflika's FLN and the military brass.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Social Reading of the 2007 elections

Much have been made out of the 2007 legislative elections in Morocco. The PJD managed to place second in the total number of seats after the nationalist Istiqlal party. PJD won 46 out of the 325 seats in the lower house of the parliament and is the major opposition bloc in the political system. Many observers of Moroccan politics view the latest elections as a failure for the PJD, whose former leader Sa’ad Eddine Othmani prior to the elections, predicted to gain a landslide victory and the first Islamist government in the history of Morocco. The failure of the PJD in the last elections is probably due to its lack of reach and support in rural areas. Election results show that the majority of the seats won by the party were in predominantly urban areas. One of the best pieces written about the elections is by Samir Ben-Layashi, who was so kind to share it with Maghreb blog. Analysts and observers will be tuning in to the upcoming local elections to see how the PJD will fare.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Ben Ali and Journalistic Freedom

After eight months in prison, Tunisian journalist Slim Boukhdir is back at his best and is critical of President Ben Ali's latest assault on freedom of the press. Ben Ali is running for a fifth term in the upcoming presidential elections in October. Tunisia remains tightly controlled by Ben Ali and the RCD since his palace coup in 1989.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Morocco's Crackdown on Shi'ism

This is a developing story that has been transmitted through various news agencies and websites. The Ministry of the Interior has launched a large scale crack-down against all manifestations of a "Shi'a movement" in Morocco. Various Shi'ites were apprehended and questioned about their beliefs. This comes in the aftermath of the Moroccan-Iranian diplomatic crisis. Apparently, the state has also closed an Iraqi school that has been accused of converting students to Shi'ism. Morocco is a Sunni Malikite country, in which king Mohammed VI is seen as both temporal and spiritual leader (Amir al-Mu'minine-Commander of the Faithful). Proselytizing Shiism is seen as a threat to the religious integrity of the kingdom, and as an affront to the monarchy as the symbol of Moroccan sovereignty.

"Italy's Grand Gesto to Libya"

Claudia Gazzini's interesting piece on Italian-Libyan relations in light of the recent treaty of friendship signed by the two countries. At issue here is the long-debated reparations for Italian past colonial rule of Libya.

Political and Economic reforms in Libya

In the aftermath of his election as the chairman of the African Union, Mo'amar Gadhafihas pledged a commitment to meaningful African unity. Ronald Bruce St. John reviews some of Ghadafi's latest political and economic reforms in Libya. St. John remarks that most of the economic reforms remain sluggish and mired by mismanagement. Political reforms in the Jamahiriyya are still absent from the repertoire of Ghadhafi's style of "popular democracy."
Michael Slackman paints an unabashedly stark portrait of a country held hostage to the single vision of its leader. such vision has stifled any move towards political change.

Monday, March 23, 2009

NDI on elections in Mauritania

NDI's press release on the upcoming elections in Mauritania in June. The military junta currently in control in the country has signaled its intention to carry fair and transparent elections. It remains to be see whether the military will be committed to free elections and its outcome.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Freedom House Report

Freedom House 2009 report on the worst offenders of human rights includes the Western Sahara. The European parliament is also working on a similar document that condemns human rights violations in the Western Sahara. The European Parliament report, which has been leaked to a Spanish newspaper, has been widely criticized by Moroccan political elite.

Positive step in Mauritania

A positive step taken by the Junta in Mauritania as they released journalist Abou Abbas Ould Brahim from jail and lifted the ban on his website Taqadoumy.

Moroccan-Iranian Relations

More on the deteriorating Moroccan-Iranian relations.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A POMED synopsis of Ahmed Herzenni's comments on the the challenges facing the system of education in Morocco. Herzenni is the President of the Advisory Council on Human Rights (CCDH).



Monday, March 16, 2009

Qadhafi's overture to Russia

Qadhafi is looking for new military weapons and technology. Interestingly, and as Yehudit Ronen highlighted last November, he is looking towards Russia for his $2 billion shopping spree. Libya is growing restless and disillusioned by  U.S. failure to impose any restrictions on North Korea's and Iran's nuclear ambitions. The colonel may have felt snubbed by what he perceives as the double standard in the U.S. approach to his "right to nuclearization." 

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Democracy Promotion in Morocco

A comprehensive study published by EuroMeSCo on the state of democracy promotion in Morocco and its perception by different target groups such as: NGOs, political parties, state officials, journalists and scholars. 


Journalist Arrest in Algeria

Reports of the arrest of Algerian journalist Noureddine Boukraa after publication of his article on corruption within state security services.

Tunisian uproar over al-Qaradawi's visit

Interesting piece on Tunisian angst towards al-Qaradawi's visit to Tunisia. One wonders how much of that anger is state-based, since al-Qaradawi has been critical of state human rights violations in Tunisia.
More on Morocco's attempt to increase the space for political participation for women. Sarah Touahri highlights the government's initiative for "a system aimed at encouraging women's representation on commune councils...as part of the government's efforts to fund parties' local election campaigns." Only time will tell if this new initiative will bear any tangible fruits for women representation in the political system.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Sacred and the Profane

Interesting article in the Economist on the limits of freedom of expression in Morocco's territory of the sacred. This continues to be a source of concern for the future of political reforms in the country.

Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb

Interesting piece on the financial predicament facing Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb. At least, Algeria and Morocco are in agreement of that common threat.

Morocco-Iranian relations

The recent decision of Morocco to sever ties with Iran illustrates the growing concern by Arab countries of the rising regional power of Iran. Granted the Bahrain controversy was key in that decision, but there is a sense that Iran is increasingly alienating many of its Arab Sunni neighbors. Morocco is already concerned about Iran's efforts in the kingdom to proselytise Shi'ism in a predominantly Sunni country.